What to do about a baby’s distended abdomen

A distended abdomen in a baby is typically nothing to worry about, but if they haven’t moved their bowels for a day or two and there is vomiting, call your pediatrician.

A distended abdomen in a baby is typically nothing to worry about — babies’ bellies tend to stick out, especially after eating.

“If your baby’s abdomen is swollen and hard and they haven’t moved their bowels for more than a day or two or there is vomiting, call your pediatrician,” said Tiffani Payne, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Okolona. “The issue is likely gas or constipation, but there could be something more serious happening.”

Hard, distended abdomen in a baby is typically a sign of gas

  • Tummy time has many benefits, including putting pressure on the abdomen that can help relieve gas.
  • Baby bicycles. With your baby on their back, gently move the legs in a bicycling motion toward the tummy. Also try holding the knees close to the tummy for about 10 seconds, straightening the legs between repetitions.
  • Massage. A gentle rub down on the tummy, shoulders, back, legs and arms can help relax baby and let the gas move.
  • Pressure. Place the baby’s tummy down across your legs or your forearm while gently rubbing the back.
  • Baby gas drops. This over-the-counter medication uses simethicone to break up gas bubbles. Mix in water, formula or breast milk.

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Constipated babies

If your baby is less than 6 months and constipated, call your pediatrician. A distended abdomen in a baby can be a sign of constipation, as can straining to pass a stool. If after a lot of work, the stool is soft, it likely isn’t constipation.

Ways to help a constipated baby older than 6 months include adding water or fruit juice to the feeding routine and choosing foods with good amounts of fiber for babies who have started solid food.

Sometimes taking your child’s temperature rectally will be enough stimulus to move the bowels.


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Norton Children's Medical Group – Okolona

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Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.
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